A federal criminal investigation and/or prosecution is typically far more complex than its state-level counterpart. A federal law enforcement agency may spend months, even years, building a case against a target before making an arrest. If you are that target, or you have already been charged with a federal crime, you need an experienced Jacksonville federal criminal defense attorney on your side immediately to ensure that your rights are protected. At Haas Law, we have extensive experience defending clients targeted by federal law enforcement agencies or accused of federal crimes. We will aggressively protect you, your rights, and your future.
Federal Crimes in the United States
Because we have a federalist form of government in the United States there are two distinct levels of government, including the judicial system. Within the justice system that means we have a federal judicial system, and each state has its own state-level judicial system. Consequently, both the federal government and the individual state governments have the authority to enact laws as well as enforce those laws. There are, however, limitations on the authority of the federal government to prosecute criminal offenses because the federal government’s jurisdiction is limited to:
- Criminal conduct that crosses state lines. In short, the federal government can assert jurisdiction over any criminal conduct that crosses state lines. For example, bank robbery is a federal offense if the bank is a member of the Federal Reserve System. Drug trafficking can be charged as a federal crime under the theory that the drugs and/or profits cross multiple state lines. Many cyber and “white collar” crimes can also be charged as federal offenses using the “conduct” jurisdiction.
- Criminal offenses involving an accused crossing a state line during the commission of the crime. The most commonly used example is a kidnapping that involves transporting the victim across a state line.
- Criminal offenses involving fraud, deception, or misrepresentation on the federal government. Federal tax fraud, counterfeiting, or fraud against any federal agency (such as Medicare) all fall under this jurisdiction.
- Criminal offenses involving violations of federal immigration/customs law. Human trafficking, crossing the border illegally, or remaining in the country after a visa expires are common examples.
- Criminal offenses that occurred on federal land or involving federal officers. When any crime occurs on federal property, such as in a federal building or at a national park, the federal government can assert jurisdiction. This also applies to crimes committed against a federal officer, such as assaulting an officer.
What Is a Target Letter?
While the basic process is the same whether a state or federal law enforcement agency is investigating a crime, federal law enforcement agencies typically have considerably more resources available and tend to investigate crimes involving multiple defendants and/or that span several states. If you are under investigation by a federal law enforcement agency that probably means the investigation has been ongoing for some time. Sometimes, the target of a federal investigation will receive a “target letter” from the government. If you receive a target letter it should inform you that you are the target in a federal grand jury investigation along with the crime(s) that you are suspected of committing. Target letters are most often used in “white collar” criminal investigations.
Important Things to Know about a Federal Criminal Prosecution
Once the decision has been made to charge a defendant, the prosecution of a federal criminal case proceeds essentially the same as a state prosecution, albeit with more formality. If you are arrested and charged with a federal crime you are entitled to a bond (in almost all cases); however, the individual posting the bond may be required to prove that the funds used are from a legal source. This occurs at a “source of funds” hearing.
The most important difference in a federal criminal prosecution is found at the sentencing stage if you are convicted. The Federal Sentencing Guidelines often call for harsher sentences and “good time” credit does not apply in the same way it does at the state level. As a federal prisoner, you can only earn a maximum of 54 days (15%) of “good time” credit each year, meaning you must serve at least 85 percent of your sentence.
Understanding Your Rights in a Federal Criminal Case
You have important constitutional rights as a suspect or an accused in a federal criminal case, including:
- Your right against self-incrimination (right to remain silent). The 5th Amendment protects you against self-incrimination. In practical terms, this means other than verifying your identity you do not have to answer questions during an encounter with a law enforcement officer. Moreover, you can assert your right at any time during an investigation or trial. Likewise, you can waive your right to remain silent if you choose to do so; however, you should always consult with an attorney first.
- Your right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. The 4th Amendment stands for the concept that a law enforcement officer cannot conduct a search of your person, property, or things without first obtaining a warrant that must be based on probable cause. Probable cause, in turn, requires a logical belief, supported by facts and circumstances, that a crime has been, is being, or will be committed or that evidence of a crime will be found at the location to be searched. While there are exceptions to the warrant requirement, a search conducted without a warrant that does not meet one of those exceptions is an illegal search, and evidence seized may be inadmissible at trial.
- Your right to confront and cross-examine witnesses. The 6th Amendment guarantees you the right to confront and cross-examine witnesses against you as well as the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury.
Get Help from Experienced Jacksonville Federal Criminal Defense Attorney
If you have been charged with a federal crime, or you suspect that you are under investigation by a federal law enforcement agency, you need an experienced Jacksonville federal criminal defense attorney on your side immediately.
At Haas Law, our Jacksonville federal criminal defense attorneys have the experience, resources, and dedication necessary to protect and defend you both during an investigation and at trial if you are charged with a crime.
Call us at 407-755-7675, chat with us online, or submit our online form today. Because we understand that time is of the essence when federal law enforcement authorities are investigating you, our calls are answered 24 hours a day, allowing you to schedule an appointment as soon as possible to discuss your legal options.